All films arise from scripts but not all scripts come from novels. After reading Chamber Music (Música de Cámara) by Cuban author Reinaldo Montero, Cuban actor Vladimir Cruz wrote the script for the feature film, Affinities (Afinidades). Along with fellow actor Jorge Perugorría, Cruz co-directed and starred in the film. Their efforts culminated in a film seething with the interstitial complexity that’s easily encountered in a novel but less so on screen. Consequently, Affinities tells one story but emotes something as complicated as the human condition. It’s a strange sensation to be intuiting such complexity from a film. Perhaps that’s why it will keep you thinking long after the closing credits roll.
Immediately, the film conveys the sort of tension leading you to believe this story will end in someone dying. Affinities is not a thriller, however, it is drama. Even so, the score produced by Silvio Rodríguez and Omara Portuondo conveys something methodical and ancient as the stars with a slow, brooding tempo and very little flourish. Long, sustained chords from the strings and the deep melancholy from the brass move like G-d’s breath along dark waters. Deep, resonating tympani and the hiss of cymbals, while beautiful, allow for a sinister space heavy with burden.
Cinematography by Luis Najmías Jr. exacerbates this feeling of unease and even claustrophobia with not so much camera angles but duration; shots are held for longer than what feels comfortable. Faces begin to look suspicious as we gaze upon them long after smiles fade. We scour landscapes for possible clues. Nothing goes without discern.
The writing allows for even less breathing space as characters interact with each other with grandiose ideas and brutally short replies. Sometimes these exchanges seem truncated, as if Cruz purposefully withheld anything that would feel like resolution. The absence, then, makes for silence, something that is given fierce presence in the role of Magda (exquisitely portrayed by actress Gabriela Griffith). It is in these exchanges that your mind wanders in a gentle panic. Much like music, it is these spaces of silence or what goes unsaid that are more important than the music itself. And so you continue watching with baited breath and hope for some release.
Cruz even gives to one of the characters, the wonderful Spanish actress Cuca Escribano, the habit of speaking in questions. Indeed, while much of what she has to say provides us with the levity so scarce in this film, she is literally discussed in the movie as speaking in questions. The effect is both cute and frustrating, for many of her questions go unanswered.
With all that is happening under the surface, the plot of the film is somewhat simple: Two couples spend a weekend together on a getaway. Arriving on a Friday and leaving on a Sunday, they dine together, go boating together, sun themselves at the pool together, watch a show together and in more ways that you can anticipate and imagine, have sex. And there it is: There is a lot of sex in this movie.
Married sex and Hollywood usually mean some sort of infidelity picture. Richard Gere comes to mind as the king of the adult drama genre. But it is Diane Lane’s performance in Unfaithful as she stole the movie with a scene I’ve never had so many people point out before: the train ride home when she battles between the giddy euphoria brought on by flashbacks of a new lover and the lip-trembling, harrowing reality of the now threatened marriage awaiting her next stop. Glen Close and Michael Douglas starred in the penultimate infidelity movie, Fatal Attraction, directed by Adrian Lyne. Lyne also directed Indecent Proposal, a very sexy movie starring Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson that was all about testing the bonds of love and marriage for something as simple as financial security.
Affinities can certainly be considered a part of this genre of picture, but it is also much more. In a press conference for Affinity, Cruz explains that while this is a movie much ado about infidelity, it is also just as much about the individual. He states: “We are only trying to meditate about the human being and their complexities, facing emptiness and the lack of rational explanation for many of the problems of the contemporary world, sometimes appearing that the only way out is to take refuge in instincts.” He goes on to say that the instinctual impulse ends up being sex.
No wonder why the movie carries with it such an overwhelming feeling; this is a lot to convey in 90-minutes of film, no matter how well made. Adding to everything is the political dimension: Cuba is still under US embargo. Whether intended or not, the feeling of claustrophobia in Affinities seems to carry with it room to at least ponder just how deep the complexity goes.
And if things weren’t complicated enough, Goethe is brought up. For those interested in seeing how deep the rabbit hole goes, there is a nod to Goethe’s Elective Affinities. While it will provide more place for traction, it will certainly be without solace for the questions brought up in Affinity, with or without Goethe, bear the mark of great art: They keep the conversation going.
Playing as part of the Reel Film Club, Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 6:00pm
Instituto Cervantes 31 W. Ohio St. Chicago, IL | 6 pm : Wine & Hors d’ oevres, 7 pm : Film screening start